I am writing this letter to our union to propose a solution to paraprofessionals not feeling respected by the district in the way of adequate, respectable compensation for their education, experience, and for services they provide.

I think I speak for many of us here and around the nation when I say that we don’t feel recognized for the unique and invaluable education specialists we’ve always been. We don’t believe we’ve been made an infrastructural priority, or are considered to be an invaluable service or reason for an increase in a student’s productivity, and that this feeling is primarily because our value has not been recognized through appropriate reimbursement.

It’s why I propose that you please consider bringing to the district something akin to a comparative wage scaling framework between certified teachers and paras when at the negotiating table for discussions around compensation and adequately supporting us.

I suggest that we encourage the powers to recognize how both teachers and paras work the same number of hours and the same number of days in school with children, that many paras, while not certified necessarily, have advanced degrees or at least something comparable to an associate’s degree that warrants an earnings premium, and that because a beginning teacher starts at roughly 45,000 dollars a year, almost 10,000 dollars above the living wage threshold for a single adult in this state, which is 36,000 dollars a year, a beginning para should start with a yearly salary, not at something between a condescending poverty wage and very low income, which terrifyingly is the case now, but at something resembling a living wage at least.

We can explain to them that while paras don’t work tirelessly at home planning and correcting like teachers do, are not usually certified like teachers, and are not expected to apply themselves to countless hours of professional development, meetings and extracurricular pursuits that help the school community outside of the school day, all of which are reasons why teachers should be paid more than paras, they do often work more closely and directly with students for longer hours than their supervisors do, are expected to move at a moment’s notice to another student if need arises, all while balancing updates to Medicaid reimbursement and being first on the scene during a crisis, and that these different modes of attention ask for their own benefits.

Holding this complex regulating skill, we can clarify, while continuing to coordinate with others discreetly warrants at the very least recognizing the para as not just a general service and support unit, but as a kind of communication and behavioral specialist with the ability to execute sensitive interventions regularly and consistently on the front lines and in real time, a subtle and not just soft skill that asks to be rewarded and compensated in ways that are respectful and commensurate with a multi-tiered streamlined kind of care.

Without sounding too passive aggressive or frisky, and believe me when I say I’m trying really hard not to mix metaphors here, being one of those poets, we could ask them how they can’t afford us a living wage, knowing paras since the Jurassic have had to endure the barbaric reality of knowing they are emboldening children and making the school community safer for everybody for a generous poverty wage in the state they live and work in, while also knowing these futures they are protecting won’t translate reciprocally into a protected future for themselves in the form of an adequate retirement package that shouldn’t be a skull-cracker.

In short, I ask that you please persuade whomever it might be to take seriously that not only do paras need much more in the form of compensation to elevate their lives to the very basic level of need fulfillment that is at least the living wage threshold of 36,000 dollars a year to start, but a retirement package that says I wish you a great future now that you are done ensuring others will have one. Thank you for your time in reading this. I really appreciate it. I hope this letter in some small, huge way is helpful and persuasive at the negotiating table. In service to what’s plainly humane, which of course is never enough. Chris Russell, Instructional Assistant.